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Class act: Reunion season kicks off

Alex Okosi '94 opens the celebration with lessons learned on his journey out of Africa and back again.

By
Patrick Garrity
May 3, 2019
Alex Okosi '94 greets students after delivering his assembly remarks.

Alex Okosi '94 greets students after delivering his assembly remarks Friday. 

Alex Okosi was 12 years old when he learned he would be traveling with his parents from their native Nigeria to visit his older brothers living in the United States. He was determined to make it a one-way trip.

“My plan when I got to America, I was going to stay in America,” Okosi recalled.

“I can remember what my mother said to me: ‘Over my dead body!’”

In the end, both mother and son got their way. Okosi convinced his mom to let him stay with his brothers, a decision that eventually led him to Exeter in the fall of 1993 for a post-graduate year of high school. But that was just one stop on a journey that has returned him to Africa in a pioneering career as a media executive.

Okosi is back on campus this weekend to celebrate reunion with his 1994 classmates. More than a dozen of those classmates — as well as returning members of the classes of 1979, ’84, ’89, ’99 and 2004 — listened to Okosi eloquently tell his story during all-school assembly Friday. His remarks kicked off a month of reunions that will bring hundreds of alumni to Exeter to reminisce, reconnect and learn about the Academy of today.

Learn more about this year's reunions and see who is attending 

“OK, everybody, close your eyes and pray for me that I’ll be able to deliver an amazing speech that you guys all are inspired by,” Okosi joked as he began, but his tale of attending four high schools in four states before reaching Exeter needed no divine intervention. He cited lessons about accountability and focus that he has learned in his life and the people who have “showed up” for him along the way.  

Okosi recounted the shock of his initial visit to campus, during which the school’s academic rigor was on full display. “I left Exeter thinking, ‘Nice place to visit …’”

Motivated by the prospect of improving his basketball skills to procure an athletic scholarship as “a means to an end” to pay for college, Okosi enrolled for a post-graduate year at Exeter. A first term he called "hellish" gave way to an experience in which he says he developed a love for learning and absorbed the seeds of non sibi that flourish in his work a quarter-century after graduation.

Okosi earned that basketball scholarship — and bachelor’s degrees in business administration and economics — from St. Michael’s College, then landed an entry-level job in New York City at MTV. It was at the music and enterainment broadcasting giant that his native continent found its way back into his life. A chance introduction to the network’s global CEO (and fellow St. Michael’s alumnus) Tom Freston offered Okosi the opportunity to pitch an idea. He said the 30-minute meeting redefined his career.

“I went in for the kill. I pitched him on the idea that Africa deserved its own MTV and I knew how to get it done profitably,” Okosi said. He said he recognized a massive untapped business market, but he also was committed to changing the narrative about Africa and showcasing a “youth culture with incredible creativity.”

He worked on the plan for a year before being assigned to a strategy and business development team in London. “It wasn’t to work on Africa; they let me do that late night — but again: I had late-night experience,” he said, wryly alluding to marathon study sessions at Exeter.

Watch Okosi's full assembly speech at Exeter Live

Okosi said he crafted 27 versions of his business plan, and in 2005, MTV Base Africa launched with a live music special and performances from African and international artists. The project not only had a mission to entertain, but to tackle the tough issues that young people face and a commitment to respect and give voice to the continent’s youth. Nearly 15 years on, Okosi remains in Africa (he’s based in Johannesburg, South Africa), now as an executive vice president for MTV’s parent company Viacom and overseeing multiple channels, including Comedy Central Africa and BET International.

He left his assembly audience with a summary of the lessons he holds dearest, revealing them one at a time on screen:

“Be Accountable …

“Be Focused …

“Be Respectful …

“Be Innovative … You guys see where this is going?” he asked. “See, you’re Exeter. I can’t get anything by you!”

The last two lessons “Be Collaborative” and “Be Accessible,” completed the list. The lessons perhaps can be remembered easiest by their acronym.

“A-F-R-I-C-A.”